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Communication Strategies: Hearing while dining out

Whether you suffer from hearing loss or not, hearing while dining out can be challenging. Most restaurants or bars have music playing, TVs on, and dozens of people talking at once – it’s a lot. Since we’re now experts at communicating at home, in our cars, or over the phone, it’s time to master restaurants. Communicating in restaurants can feel extra cumbersome, but we’ve got the tips you need to help you succeed!

Listeners – this is for you

Noisy restaurants can be very difficult for listeners, especially those with hearing loss. Luckily, listeners tend to be face-to-face with the speaker in most restaurants, which makes it easier for the listener to use that critical sense of sight. If you are in a group, choose the seat that allows you to clearly see the others at your table, this will make hearing while dining out a little less challenging.

Speakers – this is for you

Noisy restaurants often make it difficult for those with hearing loss to hear speech clearly. They may miss parts of the sentence and rely on visual cues to put the pieces together. This means that they must see your face. They need to see the shape of your lips and the facial expressions that you make while you are speaking.

Next time you’re sharing a meal with someone experiencing hearing loss, practice speaking clearly while keeping your hands, napkin, and utensils away from your mouth while you speak. Be sure not to speak with food in your mouth as the chewing motion makes it difficult for your companion to see your natural lip shapes and movements. And don’t hide your mouth with your napkin when you speak. You might feel like this is being polite, but it actually makes it very hard for your companion to hear and see you.

It’s time to practice

Whether you suffer from hearing loss, or your someone in your life does, we’ve got an exercise for you to try! Grab a friend and go to your favorite restaurant. Really focus on your companion’s lip movements, facial expressions, and gestures. Notice how much important information you receive by carefully watching the speaker. Sometimes this can be difficult if your companion is chewing or wiping their mouth with a napkin. In these situations, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and say, “I need to see your face when you talk, can you please hold the napkin away from your mouth?” You’ll see, after a few times practicing, you’ll be much better at speaking clearly and at advocating for yourself in a noisy restaurant setting.

Environmental Tip
You have control over when you go out to eat, where you go out to eat, and where you sit in the restaurant. Be sure to use it to set yourself up for the best possible experience for hearing while dining out. So, what can you control?

When: Off-peak hours when the restaurant is not busy.
Where: Choose quieter restaurants with carpet and lower ceilings.
Where: Choose a table that is farther from the kitchen or bar area, and request a booth if possible. Also look for a table that has good lighting so that the listener can clearly see the speaker’s face.

Does your favorite restaurant check off all these boxes?

Test it out

Go to lunch at 11am or dinner at 4pm. Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of the restaurant’s hostess; that person is there to make your experience enjoyable, and that includes hearing while dining out. Ask the hostess to suggest a quiet, well-lit section of the restaurant. If necessary, be patient and wait for your favorite booth, it may make all the difference!

While modern hearing aids are capable of adapting to different environments automatically, most hearing aids can also be adjusted manually. It is helpful to have a manual “Restaurant” program that is set to more aggressively reduce background noise and amplify speech sounds. Don’t forget to try your “Restaurant” program every time you dine out. You should notice a slight decrease in the volume of the background noise and a slight increase in the clarity of voices. Your hearing care provider can sometimes make adjustments to this program to make it even more helpful for you, so be sure to communicate your needs clearly.
By far, the most useful devices for improving hearing in noisy restaurants are wireless microphones. There are two types of wireless microphones. One is called a Companion Microphone and it works best when you are dining with one other person. The other is called a Table Microphone and it works best when you are dining with a group of people around a table.If you don’t have a wireless microphone, be sure to ask your hearing care provider about this option. If you do have one, use it every chance you get. The hardest part is remembering to bring it along to the restaurant with you. However, once you experience how easy it is to use and how well you can hear with it, you won’t ever forget it again!

If these tips aren’t enough, then we’ve got a little more for you, all hearing-aid specific!

How can you get the best out of your hearing aids?

  • Hearing aids are amazing, but they cannot read your mind. If you are dining out and a patron at a neighboring table has a louder voice than your companion, the hearing aids will naturally pick up that louder voice. The hearing aids don’t know that you’d rather hear your companion’s soft voice! It is important to have realistic expectations about what hearing aids are truly capable of doing, and to put more emphasis on the speaker, listener, and environmental skills you’ve learned to maximize your hearing potential. 
  • Most hearing aids have the capability for the volume to be adjusted manually. This control may be accessed on the hearing aid itself, with a remote control unit, or with the hearing aid app on your smartphone. Restaurants are a great place to play with the volume control to find a volume setting that is comfortable for that particular environment. Try to set the volume according to your companion’s voice rather than to the noise around you. With practice, your brain will get better and better at tuning out the background noises.
  • Sometimes, hearing aid users feel tempted to remove one hearing aid when they are in a group or noisy environment in order to reduce the amount of amplified sound. While this may provide some relief, especially with older hearing aids, it certainly is not the best option for those who wear modern digital hearing aids. Today’s wireless hearing aids actually communicate with one another to provide optimal hearing in all listening situations. For this reason, it is important to always wear both hearing aids, especially in those more challenging listening environments.

Now you have all the tools you need for hearing while dining out! Let us know how these tips work for you, and if you have any other suggestions, we’d love to hear them! We hope you’re not experiencing any difficulties with hearing right now, but if you are, make an appointment with us today! We’ll take care of all the necessary testing to get down to the bottom of it.

We’ve got tips for all kinds of scenarios – use the links below for:
– Communication strategies in the car.
– Communication strategies on the phone.
– Communication strategies for watching TV.

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